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Human rights workers urge swift adoption of liberal law on freedom of peaceful assembly

 

On 11 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights judgment was issued in the case of Vyerentsov v. Ukraine. The Court called on the Ukrainian authorities to pass a law without delay regulating procedure for notifying of plans to hold a meeting; stipulating the motives and procedure for the authorities’ actions in restricting such a right.

As reported, Oleksiy Vyerentsov received a three day term of administrative imprisonment for holding a peaceful protest outside the Prosecutor’s Office in Lviv and his refusal to obey the police when they told him to stop the protest. The ruling was taken by the Halytsky District Court in Lviv which did not allow Vyerentsov’s lawyer to attend the court hearing.  It later transpired that the Lviv Court of Appeal also considered that you need a permit from the authorities to hold a peaceful gathering.  The case was supported by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Strategic Litigations Fund.

The European Court of Human Rights found that the Vyerentsov case highlighted a structural problem, “namely a legislative lacuna concerning freedom of assembly which has remained in Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union. The only existing document currently establishing a procedure for holding demonstrations is a Decree adopted in 1988 by the USSR (the 1988 Decree), which is not generally accepted by the Ukrainian courts as still applicable. Therefore, under Article 46 (binding force and implementation), the Court invited Ukraine to urgently reform its legislation and administrative practice to establish the requirements for the organisation and holding of peaceful demonstrations, as well as the grounds for their restriction”.

In its judgement the Court referred amongst other things to UHHRU data regarding bans of peaceful gatherings in Ukraine. It noted, for example, that according to UHHRU information, in 2012 the Ukrainian authorities had tried to restrict peaceful gatherings in 358 cases and had been successful in 90% of these cases.

Mr Vyerentsov will receive 6 thousand EUR in compensation.

The case was represented at the European Court of Human Rights by Volodymyr Yavorskyy, member of the UHHRU Board.  Mr Yavorskyy is convinced that “implementation of this judgement involves adoption by Ukraine of a law which clearly regulates the rules for peaceful assembly and change to the article of the Code of Administrative Offences regarding violation of the procedure for organizing peaceful gatherings. This judgement also once again raises the issue of violations of the right to a fair trial through administrative detention. This judgement yet again raises the issue of violation of the right to a free trial under administrative detention and means that most participants in unauthorized gatherings can count on victory in Strasbourg – as a rule they are accused of infringements of Article 185 of the Code of Administrative Offences”.

Maxim Latsyba, Coordinator of the Partnership for Freedom of Peaceful Assembly believes that the lack of a law regulating freedom of peaceful assembly is a threat to Ukrainian activists. He cited the arbitrary treatment by the police of the Democratic Alliance at Mezhyhirya and the Kharkiv events with the blocking of access to the place where the peaceful protest was to take place.  Mr Latsyba thinks that if civic organizations do not write the law, it will be written by members of the party in power.

UHHRU Executive Director, Arkady Bushchenko stated that UHHRU was planning to lobby for the adoption as soon as possible of a liberal law on safeguarding freedom of peaceful assembly and is ready to facilitate preparation of this draft bill, basing this on documents drawn up over many years by its experts and the conclusions of the European Court of Human Rights and other international expert opinions. He also mentioned that UHHRU is supporting the case to get Mr Vyerentsov’s administrative prosecution reviewed.

 

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